Iowa Department of Education

05/26/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/26/2020 00:21

District emphasizes ‘Biliteracy Seal’ among its students

The Marshalltown Community School District ramped up its efforts this past school year to honor students who are proficient in at least two languages.

It's paid off: Fifty-four students received the state's Biliteracy Seal this spring, up from 16 when the program debuted last year. The growth was a product of team work.

'We have a biliteracy committee comprised of our world language teachers, English language teachers, administrators and counselors,' said Rachel Inks, director of English language learner and migrant programs. 'We needed to get a wide perspective of the learners' needs and make sure we could position these students in the pathways of biliteracy.'

The committee decided it would be best to test the students at the beginning of the school year to enable students to see where they stood in mastering the two languages.

'This allowed the students to know where they were and for us to put down a goal,' Inks said. 'And then they could retake it again at the end of the year.'

The flip side, she said, is that it truly engaged the students in the learning.

'It was valuable data being able to understand where the student strengths were and look at what was not yet fully understood by the students so they could adjust their own learning targets in the classroom,' Inks said. 'The students could understand where they needed to grow as a learner and then better position themselves to earn that biliteracy seal.'

The program underscores the district's mission, said Lisa Stevenson, director of instruction.

'We want the students to be ready to engage in the world,' she said. 'Speaking a second language is an important step there.'

It is the district's commitment that enables Marshalltown to fully realize the potential with the Biliteracy Seal.

'Our district has chosen to offset the cost,' Stevenson said. 'Though the English exam is paid for by the school, we're not required to pay for additional exams. But we do. We think it makes for more of an equitable experience for the kids.'

Though the pandemic loomed threateningly over the possibility of taking proficiency tests this spring, students were undaunted. They made appointments to take the tests, sometimes outside under an awning.

'The students are determined,' Inks said.

One student, in particular, sticks out in Ink's mind.

'She was worried she wouldn't be able to take the test, but she did,' Inks said.

Did the student pass?

'Yes, she achieved proficiency in both Spanish and English,' she said. 'She was thrilled.'